The courage to engage in confrontation with confidence is a courage you need to receive for yourself before others will receive it from you.  Many people are afraid of confrontation.  Unfortunately, the two most frequent ways that people deal with this fear are:

  1. To avoid the confrontation.
  2. To engage in it with fear, which makes the encounter unproductive.

Let’s begin with how to replace the fear of confrontation with courage.  This is another area where the courage you need is already built into you.  You are built for this.  So we’ll talk about how to draw that courage out in a way that you can then pass on for encouraging others.

To feel empowered for confrontation, begin with this thought:

  • Confrontation is not a situation to fear.  Confrontation is a situation to embrace as the best opportunity to achieve a resolution or breakthrough that cannot be achieved any other way.

Think of confrontation as a positive opportunity, not as a negative threat.  In fact, you might even want to switch up your vocabulary a little.  Instead of the word “confrontation,” substitute the phrase “conversation to achieve resolution.” 

Confrontation should not be about victory; it should be about resolution.  Instead of thinking of the other person as an adversary, think of them as a partner in achieving resolution.  Even if they are thinking of you as an adversary, your mindset will give you the right kind of position of strength.  I’ll explain how that works in a moment, and I’ll also talk about how to overcome the fear of confrontation.  For now, I’ll go ahead and use the word “adversary,” and I’m going to move on to a second element of an empowering mindset. 

This point is especially relevant if you are in a leadership position.  But even if you are not, you may still hold a temporary leadership role in this conversation.  Even if the conversation is with your boss, the leadership role in a confrontation often goes to the person who has the clearest vision of how to achieve the best outcome for everyone.

  • Handling confrontation effectively will help you be the kind of leader that people want to follow, because it will help you to bring out the best in the people you lead.

Your goal in confrontation is no longer to bring adversaries to their knees; it is to bring out the best in them.  This is another case where we are talking about a human principle as well as a leadership principle.  

The heart for bringing out the best in others that characterizes great leadership extends beyond merely the people you lead.  Leaders who have a passion for bringing out the best in the people they lead have a heart for bringing out the best in people in general, including themselves.

Now here’s a third element for an empowering mindset toward confrontation.

  • Your goal in confrontation is not to win at the expense of your adversary; it is to see that everyone comes out of the confrontation better off than they entered it. 

The reason I call these 3 mindsets “empowering” is because they empower you to rise above win-lose confrontation in order to pursue win-win confrontation.  Win-lose confrontation applies to war or litigation, but win-win confrontation is what you want in relationships.  A heart for win-win confrontation makes it more productive.

Now here’s how to overcome the greatest challenge to effective confrontation – fear.

The fear of confrontation is an enemy that absolutely must be conquered – permanently and decisively.  Of course, I’m not talking about confrontation just for the sake of confrontation (unnecessary confrontation).  I’m talking about engaging in the kinds of confrontations that are necessary in order for a problem to be resolved. 

Avoiding a necessary confrontation because it’s uncomfortable, or because the outcome seems uncertain, is rarely the answer.  Sometimes the problem just goes away, and if you really believe it will, then go ahead and ride it out a little farther.  But usually what happens is that the problem continues to fester, and then the opportunity for a resolution or a breakthrough gets tougher, or slips away altogether.

Avoidance can take several forms.  Of course, it can mean avoiding the conversation altogether.  But another form of avoidance can be to engage in the confrontation but still not say what needs to said, such as what will happen if things stay the same, or exactly what the change needs to look like, or how to do it.  Or it could be not setting a deadline for making the change.  Often, avoidance during confrontation is simply a lack of desire or perseverance to achieve a win-win resolution.

Instead of approaching a confrontation with fear, approach it with excitement for the good that could come out of it, especially for your adversary.  If you are a manager, a confrontation with you may be the one opportunity an employee has for the kind of breakthrough that will help them fulfill their potential. 

One of the main reasons we avoid confrontation is the fear that it will not go well.  So now let’s talk about what the fear of confrontation is all about, and how to conquer it.

In the simplest terms, the main source of fear and weakness in confrontation is the fear of what will happen to us.  Will we be worse off at the end of the confrontation than we were at the beginning?  Will we lose, whatever that might mean?  Will we look bad, or act bad, or feel bad?  Will we damage the relationship beyond repair? 

To overcome the fear of confrontation, begin with this principle:

  • The number one strategy for handling confrontation is not to worry about yourself.

That sounds a little too simple, so let’s dig deeper.  I’m going to go back to something I said in the first chapter, and now I’ll apply it to gaining courage for confrontation.

  • We are all wired in such a way that we are at our best and strongest when we are focused on the well-being of others above our own, and we are all at our worst and weakest when we are focused on the well-being of ourselves above others. 

Just understanding that we are at our best and strongest when we are focused on the well-being of others helps us master confrontation in a positive way, a way that leaves everyone better off at the end than they were at the beginning. 

Now I’m going to go another step deeper.  I’m going to talk about what it means to have a position of strength in confrontation.

Confrontation is especially stressful when we believe we’re in the position of weakness and the adversary has the position of strength.  We always want to engage in a confrontation from a position of strength. 

Once you realize that we are naturally wired to be at our best and strongest when we are focused on the well-being of others above our own, it provides an absolute game changer for establishing our position of strength in confrontation.  It turns the whole idea of strength and weakness in confrontation upside down.  The rule for establishing a position of strength in confrontation now becomes this:

  • The best way to gain a position of strength in a confrontation is to focus on the needs, well-being and dignity of the adversary.

Now I’ll tweak that statement a little in order to make a slightly different point with the same truth.

  • The key to achieving the best results in a confrontation is to focus on the needs, well-being and dignity of the other person and let your own needs, well-being and dignity take care of themselves – and trust that they will.

Your self-talk may sound like this: “When this is over, I’ll be fine.  I need to help the other person get through it, so they’ll be fine, too.” 

Success in confrontation is more a matter of the heart than of skill, and the last two statements describe the strongest heart for mastering confrontation.  When you approach a confrontation with this heart, you are able to compartmentalize your anxiety about the confrontation enough to:

  • engage in the confrontation instead of avoiding it,
  • engage in the confrontation in a way that gains the best possible result for everyone, and
  • move the encounter along to its resolution without letting it get aborted.

You also want everyone in the confrontation to be relaxed.  In a sense, you want them to have the same feeling of strength you have, because it is the right kind of strength for achieving the ideal resolution.  You don’t want them to feel fear any more than you want yourself to feel it. 

Fear on either side undermines a confrontation.  This is why intimidation rarely has a long-term benefit in a confrontation.  Intimidation will not empower you to lead a win-win confrontation. 

Instead, you want to use the confrontation to build a relationship of mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual understanding, and mutual dignity.  When you allow yourself to take this approach, it increases your own feelings of peace, strength and hope for the confrontation.  It also increases the chances of a win-win outcome.

Once you are able to embrace this approach to handling confrontation, you will be able to teach and model it in order to give courage to others.  In confrontation, you are not trying to steal the position of strength away from the other person; you are trying to share your position of strength with them.  You are giving courage to yourself and to the other person at the same time.  That is true encouragement: giving and receiving courage.